Project Staffing: How can the Skills Matrix Help?

Ever since people have been employing other people, we've needed a way to determine if they are doing their jobs properly.

Ever since people have been employing other people, we've needed a way to determine if they are doing their jobs properly. Pre-employment testing, reviews, probation periods, skills matrices - all borne out of a desire to make sure work gets done right.  


But you'd be mistaken if you thought these were modern ideas. The earliest evidence of pre-employment testing goes back as far as 206 BC, in Han Dynasty China. At this time, cognitive employment exams were used to select candidates for government roles.  


And in the first World War, the US used the "Army Alpha" and "Army Beta" tests to evaluate soldiers entering the military. The tests aimed to determine a standardised score for a soldier's capacity to serve, future job prospects (such as leadership), and ability to follow instructions.  


But when it comes to testing existing employees, few will agree to being hauled into an exam room or undertaking a paper test.  


So, if you're looking to implement a new programme or project, how do you spotlight the diverse skills and proficiency levels of existing staff? The Skills Matrix is one method I'm exploring today.  


1. What is a skills matrix?  

A skills matrix is a visual representation of skills across a team or individual, relative to each other in strength and weakness.  


For example, Joni may have better analytical skills than leadership skills. Sarah might enjoy customer facing work and Christie might show a great affinity for problem-solving. If you needed these three for a project, you could use a skills matrix to show their strengths relative to each other, making it simpler to assign tasks and roles.  


2. Why use a skills matrix?  

In an age where data is king, using a skills matrix offers quantifiable insights into the capabilities of your team. Numbers aside, it's a great backup to show off your informed decision-making.  


And let's say you need to strategise long-term, for example, for an ERP rollout (I cover the 5 key factors you need to consider when choosing an ERP here). If your team lacks experience with the platform, a skills matrix will spotlight gaps and guide your next steps - be that training or seeking external support.  


3. What are the benefits of a skills matrix?  

I've narrowed it down to five key benefits.  


  • Team Assembly: Whether you're launching a new project or restructuring an existing one, a skills matrix helps you identify the right team members based on their skills and expertise.  
  • Training and Development: By highlighting areas of improvement, the matrix becomes a catalyst for targeted training and development initiatives.  
  • Fostering Internal Learning: Recognising and celebrating the diverse skills within your team can foster a culture of internal learning and knowledge sharing.  
  • Tracking Employee Growth: As your team members evolve and acquire new skills, the matrix serves as a tangible record of their professional journey.
  • Recruitment Strategy: When it's time to expand your team, the matrix, with its data-driven insights, can guide your conversations with HR, ensuring you fill the right gaps.  


4. What are the limitations of a skills matrix? 

As with all manual processes, a skills matrix can quickly go out of date. Skills evolve, and so do projects. It will fall to someone - probably you - to manually update the matrix, which can be time-consuming.  


And possibly most importantly: this process is inherently limited by bias in evaluating soft skills. While it's straightforward to find Salesforce superstars or Excel wizards (skills that can be tested and quantitively evaluated), softer skills are always going to be tricky to evaluate.  


Think: how do you determine if someone is a good presenter? Is it following a script, never deviating? Is it reading the room and dropping in topical jokes? Is it using the famous "Apple hands"? Take into account different personality styles, neurodiversities, audiences, and the "right score" becomes even trickier to arrive at.  



In these cases, it might be useful for employees to complete a self-rated matrix to support your evaluation, and to ensure you aren't pushing people into roles they won't thrive in. For example, you might think Karan has incredible presentation skills, but on his self-rating, he notes that he not only has low confidence in this area but isn't enthused by getting better at it. He prefers communicating via text.  


In this case, look for others in the team who may rate their presentation skills higher than you would evaluate them, and ask if they're interested in the opportunity to build that skillset. Employee alignment and agreement is equally as important as your evaluation. It's a balancing act when it comes to who gets the last word.  


What can you take away from this? 

The skills matrix is a clear, efficient process for visually representing skills and deficits across a team. Staffing your projects with internal and external resource can be a challenge, so data will go a long way in helping you make informed decisions.  


But as always, be aware of biases, and seek out ways to reduce them. By understanding the strengths and limitations of skills matrices in employee evaluation, you'll be more prepared to harness its potential to build robust, competent teams for your projects and programmes.  


Want to read more from me?  

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And are you a new programme manager tasked with choosing an ERP? As we move to reassess what the future might look like, rolling out new ERP tech in a sea of competition might not feel so simple.  

Do you go old-school, or take a chance on a challenger? I cover the five key benchmarks you should consider in your procurement process.